"A Hebridean Alphabet", written and illustrated by Debi Gliori, is a wonderful book: a magical evocation of the experience of spending a day on a Hebridean island. The book is aimed at readers aged between five and seven. We tried it out on our six year old grandson, Alistair, a boy who has spent time the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides. Would he relate to the book? He did, without hesitation. He devoured it in a single sitting, reading it aloud and only getting seriously stumped over the word "ultramarine". And then he wanted to go back to the start and read through it again after we explained why the book was called a Hebridean Alphabet.
You see, there are three different elements that come together perfectly to make this book such a pleasure to have and to hold. The first and most obvious is the author's wonderful collection of full colour illustrations, which make great use of a palette strong in the grassy greens, the blues of the sea and sky, and the pale yellows of the sand that form such a large part of any Hebridean experience (when the sun is shining, at least). The second element is the story, setting out a series of snapshots in a day on a Hebridean island enjoyed by two children and their dog.
And then there's the "alphabet". Each snapshot gives prominence to words beginning with a particular letter of the alphabet, and these move on subtly and seamlessly from page to page, or sometimes within pages. So the first page includes "awake", "around", "air", and then we move on to "breathe", "boots, "breakfast, "beach" and "boggy burn". And so on. Being an alphabet, there were inevitably sections that offered more in the way of potential to the author than others. Hence the page that talks of "Trudging uphill under an ultramarine sky". And the last page had us discussing whether there were any options that could have been used beyond a sleeping "zzzz". Alistair was unconvinced by my suggestion that a book about a Hebridean island could have been improved by the inclusion of a zebra, whether native-born or imported, and he was of course right. If you could only buy the small child in your life one book, this would be the book to buy.